Kansas City's headbangers wanted bigger crowds, so they formed a more perfect union.

Rock and Enroll 

Kansas City's headbangers wanted bigger crowds, so they formed a more perfect union.

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"DIY [do it yourself] can only go so far," says Celt, who coordinated the compilation. "If we want to create a real scene, it has to be with a DIT [do it together] approach."

Unusually pragmatic, as musicians go, the phonies started organizing round tables, covering topics as varied as instrument insurance, pawn-shop detectives (and how they can recover stolen gear), licensing and copyright information, guerrilla marketing tips (says Johnson: "A free sampler CD is even better than a flier with titties") and stick-bass instructions. More than the local musicians in any other genre, Kansas City's hard-rock soldiers share an uncanny interest in the auxiliary intricacies of their craft. It's difficult to imagine local punks or hip-hop heads cramming rooms on weekend afternoons for voluntary seminars.

"Even after playing out as long as I have, I'm guilty of not really having a ton of knowledge of licensing, copyright and distribution," Celt admits. "Being mindful of the business side of the music business is an advantage that many don't have."

The phonies held their first round table in July 2003 at Capn's, a suitably rustic spot in Higginsville. At this gathering of 25 musicians, promoters, and metal and hardcore 'zine editors, Celt and Johnson laid out the phonies' blueprint.

"We had long discussions about the way clubs are run and where local musicians are on the food chain," Johnson says. "I talked about everyone banding together to force clubs to give us guarantees, with the idea that we are our own consumers and any club would book any of us knowing that a built-in fanbase would follow. We decided we didn't want to work all night, do all the promotion and drag all the motherfuckers into the bar just to make $50, and we shouldn't have to. We were selling the club for them. Why shouldn't we be paid at least as much as the doorman?"

This strategy contained obvious union overtones, and the implications were made explicit at the second round table, which took place on January 24 at the Stardust Lounge in Kansas City, Kansas, a throwback dive decorated like an Elvis-obsessed T.G.I. Friday's. Celt and Johnson distributed a brochure titled "Benefits of Phonydom" that listed the perks of dues-paying membership, including Phony Jam participation, promotion of each other's shows, access to a Web site, advertising funds to promote that Web site, and discounts at print shops and recording studios. The proposed monthly fee for such services, $7 to $10 a month, drew mixed reactions, even from the organization's leaders.

"I am not too big on the dues thing, Spiller says. "It's a bit too corporate for me."

"People associate dues and money and membership with control," Johnson says. "I don't want to control these bands. I just want to help them. But because of that stigma, I don't think we'll ever get that phase going."

"Any time money is brought into the mix, people get apprehensive about it and someone has to be responsible for it," Celt says. "I really don't want that job."

One topic about which all 75-100 phonies in attendance expressed enthusiasm at the Stardust round table was Phony Jam III, which took place this past weekend at the Hurricane.

Moving Phony Jam III to the Hurricane marked a breakthrough for the hard-rock set, which hoped to break out of its limited-available-venues ghetto. Mention of the club's name drew some heckles at the Stardust round table. A voice from the crowd razzed, "Will they have cool DJs? Can we bust a move?" Hurricane booking agent Charley Bliese issued a curt reply: "It pays bills -- get past that." Still, the round-table rockers reached the consensus that an affiliation with the Hurricane gave the event legitimacy. And Johnson is already looking ahead to the next upgrade.

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